Fragmentation Based Customer Support

Note: This post is not about customer service representatives but rather the actual support processes put in place by companies. In the past I’ve worked in technical support and it is a difficult job where you get beaten up by both customers and management. Unlike retail where a customer will physically show up at the returns desk and see the human behind the desk in tech support customers have no problem ‘screaming’ – through the phone, email and Twitter.

Summary

Why is it so hard to have great customer support? I think that one big reason is fragmentation. Customer support representatives seem to have very little power to actually help, and it always seems to be another department that is the right one to help.

In this post I talk about my experience with OfficeMax and Adobe. There’s nothing unique about this experience. It happens across most companies. There are very few companies that have great customer support and there are even fewer that have representatives that can solve your problem on the spot. The only company that comes to mind where both great support and rapid resolution intersect is Hover.

Detail

About a month ago I ordered a 2 TB portable hard disk from OfficeMax for my workplace. I went through the work related shopping carts to order this drive. It was supposed to be shipped within a week of the order but nothing showed up. Two weeks later, I contacted my workplace finance person to check on the order (i.e. the PO) and she confirmed that everything was squared away on my employer’s side. She sent me an email with the PO number and it alsoincluded the UPS tracking number.

Going to UPS’s website I discovered that the package was not delivered due to an address issue. It was almost the right address, but almost is not good enough when UPS can’t deliver it. So I called the OfficeMax customer service number listed on their the website with PO in hand.

The representative that answered (lets call her Jane 1 aka J1) and politely asked me for the details of my order. Then after about 2 minutes of silence she said to me “I’m sorry sir but I don’t have access to the part of the system that would show me your order. I need to transfer you to the technology team and they’ll be able to answer your question”. Before I could anything in response, I was on hold with OfficeMax’s grating elevator music.

Forty five minutes later I was still on hold and no one from the ‘technology team’ graced me with a moment of their time. I hung up in disgust and went back to UPS’s website. I noticed an option to update the address if I had an account so I went ahead and created an account and updated the delivery address. Since I wasn’t sure if this would work I called OfficeMax again with the foolish hope that I would get someone that could do something about my order.

Jane 2 (J2) picked up the phone and I related my previous hold and call time. She apologized and told me that “the technology team has been merged with customer service, so I should have access to your PO”. She looked it up and finds it, then she tells me that it might not make sense to to alter the delivery through UPS since I already changed the address. I tell her that I want my address to be changed in their system in order to avoid this kind of mess-up can be avoided (after all I’ll be forced to order from OfficeMax again). She tells me that I have to go to my employer’s finance group to get that changed.

The drive arrives the next day due to my intervention through UPS’s website. But it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth about OfficeMax. Moving forward, I decide to find some other way to get equipment to avoid OfficeMax as much as possible.

Now was the representative ‘bad’ in any way? Not at all. Why couldn’t J1 find my order but J2 could? I can only figure that there’s tremendous compartmentalization in OfficeMax’s customer support.

Of course my experience with OfficeMax was a walk in the park when compared to Adobe. Adobe’s customer support fragmentation is breathtaking in its depth and breadth. About 2 years ago I had to move a license for Framemaker from a coworker that left the company. After about two weeks of phone calls and emails the license was finally moved. It was unbelievable exhausting ordeal.

Yesterday I had a flashback to my previous experience with Adobe. My current employer got me a Creative Cloud (CC) license and I got the CC email on Monday:

Hi Eli4d,

You have been assigned a Creative Cloud — Complete membership. This grants you access to the full collection of Creative Cloud desktop products — with team-level benefits.

Accept invitation

Some of your benefits include:

The latest release of Adobe Creative Cloud apps
Access additional tools and services.
Collaborate with colleagues, both inside and outside of your organization.
Use cloud-based storage and device syncing capabilities to access and share your work wherever you are, while the software remains installed on your computer.

Welcome to Adobe Creative Cloud.

I clicked on the ‘Accept invitation’ link and ended up on a Adobe’s login page. My work email address was pre-populated but I wasn’t logged in. I used the site’s forget-password mechanism to get in. After logging in – Adobe’s website informed that I ad no subscriptions and suggested that I really should joint Creative Cloud because it’s awesome. The moment I saw this I thought OMG – I have to deal with their customer support – sh*t.

The contact information page indicated that I could only contact them by email or chat. I kept looking for a phone number – but nothing. So I choose chat even though I had 10 minutes to talk to them (kid pickup deadline). I’m not sure why I did this even though I knew that nothing would happen.

The exact thing like OfficeMax happened here – I got a representative (T1) who got information from me and then transferred me to another representative (B1) who asked me for the same exact information as the first representative. Here’s my chat session with their representative(s).

Note: I should have been nicer to the human on the other side of the keyboard. I was tight on time but he/she certainly didn’t deserve my frustration.

T1: Hello! Welcome to Adobe Customer Service.

T1: I have received your query.

T1: Please allow me a moment while I look into your account & verify the details.

Eli4d: I think I have multiple accounts and your system got confused.

Eli4d: Your file was successfully uploaded: Join your team email_showing_cc_membership.pdf.

T1: okay

T1: May I know the name of the product?

Eli4d: Attaching email that I just got.

Eli4d: Please read the email (attached pdf)

T1: okay

T1: May I know the name of the product?

Eli4d: Creative Cloud…have you read the email?

T1: I have checked your email and it is for creative cloud.

T1: For this query, I am not a right person to handle this issue and I need to transfer this chat to creative cloud support team.

T1: May I?

Eli4d: Why does your system say I’m not attached to any plan?

Eli4d: I have 8 more minutes that I can spend on this before I need to leave.

T1: I understand that but , I am not a right person to handle this issue and I need to transfer this chat to creative cloud support team.

T1: May I?

Eli4d: Is there an 800 number to talk to a human?

Eli4d: fine – transfer me

T1: Thank you

T1: Please stay online while I connect you

Eli4d: I just need someone to fix this already – I’ve been waiting for a while for corporate approval on this and now – I can’t get access.

T1: I apologize for the inconvenience.
info: Please wait while we connect you to a representative.
info: You are now chatting with B1.

B1: Hello! Welcome to Adobe Customer Service.

B1: Hi Eli4d.

B1: I understand that you are unable to use the subscription. I will be glad to check and help you with this.

Eli4d: Any status on this?

B1: I check and see that there is no subscription under eli4d@employer_email. May I know if you have an alternate email address under which you have the subscription?

Eli4d: Did the other representative send you the pdf document that I uploaded?

Eli4d: CC was purchased under eli4d@employer_email

Eli4d: Any other accounts that I have are irrelevant.

B1: May I confirm if you are referring to Adobe Creative Suite 5 Design Standard Student and Teacher Edition?

Eli4d: Your file was successfully uploaded: Join your team email_showing_cc_membership.pdf.

Eli4d: No – it’s creative cloud. Resending the pdf I already sent the other rep.

B1: May I know if you are referring to team subscription?

Eli4d: My time is up with this chat session. Kindly forward this to whoever deals with PO for your system. The attachment I sent you clearly shows you what company this is associated with – employer_name.

Eli4d: It’s unfortunate that your chat system is just a constant non stop frustrating thing.

Eli4d: Kindly give me a phone number to speak to a person.

I still haven’t resolved the CC licensing issue. No one followed up with me after the above chat.

With Adobe I feel like I’m always asking for help from the wrong person. It’s like running in circles on a track. You keep putting mileage on your shoes but you’re not going anywhere. Of course with a running track you’re at least getting some exercise, whereas with Adobe it a constant exercise in futility and frustration.

Conclusion

It’s easy to prescribe un-scalable solution. If you’re not a financial institution, then why must your support people have fragmented information about the customer? Why did Adobe’s T1 representative not have my customer information? Why did he have to send me to the “Creative Cloud team” for a subscription issue? Why did B1 not get the information that T1 already had? Is it a training issue? Is it a systemic problem with customer information?

I don’t know what the solution is for this issue. As a customer I can’t do much about monoliths like Adobe or Officemax. Perhaps someone on their side can do something about fragmentation based customer support. Perhaps and then again perhaps not.

As a customer I’m dreading my next attempt in contacting Adobe. My Creative Cloud subscription is nowhere in sight and I have so little time to deal the tortuous process of getting this resolved. I’m trying to figure out if this is worth resolving or is it better to ask my employer to get a refund and then go purchase something like Pixelmator. Sure it’s not Photoshop but is Photoshop worth all the stress and aggravation of Adobe’s customer support?


Updates to this post

  • 2015-07-29: Before going back to the dreaded Adobe chat channel on Adobe’s site I reached out to Adobe customer support via Twitter referencing this post. I got immediate response from their representative.
  • 2015-07-30: Through the above Twitter conversation I got an actual human from Adobe to call me and resolve the issue (thank you Kashish). I’ve reviewed the ‘Conclusion’ section of this post and I don’t see a reason to change it. I realize that my case was resolved more than anything due to my dogged persistance. Customer support continues to be quite fragmented both for Adobe and many other companies.
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